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9.30.2020

Gaelic Football

To the outsider (Or Englishman) there are fewer sports that are more confusing than Gaelic football, which in a snapshot, consists of 15 players on each team attempting to score points against their opposite, by launching a leather ball up the pitch, aiming for the other team's goal.  The goal itself looks like a 3-way lovechild between Football, Rugby and American Football. There's plenty to aim for between the posts, with 3 points awarded if they get it into the normal goal, then 1 point for anything over the cross-bar. 

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History of Gaelic Football 

The full history of Gaelic football is a common debate among die-hard fans, but by the time the 17th century rolled around football in some form was popular, with games involving 20 or more of their tenants organised by landlords. A match County Meath in 1670 allowed players to both catch and kick the ball, which many believe places it is a direct precursor to the game played today.

It was later In 1695, however, when the Sunday Observance Act banned the playing of ‘foot-ball’, limiting the game’s spread. By then it was a tall order for the authorities to enforce this new Act and is probably part of the reason for an inter-county match between Louth and Meath being played in Slane in 1712, one of the first 'Hurling' matches recorded in the history books. 

Founding

The bohemian art of altering football rules took off in Ireland, and bythe start of the 19th century there were many different forms of football being played, earning themselves a collective name; caid. 

To begin with, there were two forms of caid that were more popular than the others, with the first involving putting the ball through the curved goals that were commonly formed from tree trunks. The other, and arguable more thrilling was an epic game that took up the whole of Sunday once mass was over and required a team to get the ball across the opposition’s parish boundary. It's fair to say both took off in popularity. 

Despite this popularity, as the 19th century progressed the game of rugby began to become more popular in Ireland, whilst the English Football Associations rules for football were codified in 1863 and began to be spread around the world.

By the 1880s association football was the most popular sport in the country, with caid beginning to fall away. The one area where that wasn’t the case was in Limerick and the employees of Cannock’s Drapery Store formed the Commercial Club and imposed a set of rules on the game that would slowly begin with re-birth Gaelic football.


Rules

It's an age old pub-debate as to whether or not Gaelic football and Aussie rules football have a shared origin. The two games boast a similar style to each other leading some historians to believe that they do indeed come from the same origins at least. The founding gathers, and again, die-hard fans tend to disagree. 

The only thing that we can say for certain is that in 1967 an Australian journalist and Victorian Football League umpire named Harry Beitzel sent a team of Austrian rules players to play an Irish team, having been inspired by the All-Ireland senior Gaelic football final that he’d watched on TV the year before.

That started what would go on to become the International Rules Series, whereby players from the two different codes play in matches that use rules from the pair of sports. Australia and Ireland alternate playing host and the likes of Croke Park and the Melbourne Cricket Ground have been used as the venues for the Series.

Aussie rules clubs also began recruiting Gaelic football players, with a number distinguishing themselves over the years. Examples include the all-Ireland football champion Jim Stynes going on to become an important Aussie rules player and Tadhg Kennelly winning both the All-Ireland Football Championship and becoming an AFL player.


The Teams 

Like rugby, the teams are made of 15 players, but with an additional 15 substitutes available from which 6 can be used. its a common fact that for smaller clubs or junior sides, they may play 13-a-side matches if they can’t find 15 players. There are typically a number of different positions taken up by Gaelic players, which are as follows:

  • Goalkeeper
  • 2 Corner Backs
  • 1 Full Back
  • 2 Wing Backs
  • 1 Centre Back
  • 2 Midfielders
  • 2 Wing Forwards
  • 1 Centre Forward
  • 2 Corner Forwards
  • 1 Full Forward

The players wear number 1 to 15 on their jerseys and the goalkeeper is required to wear a top that is a difference colour to the one worn by his teammates.

What confuses matters further is the fact that games take place on a county level and inter-county.

Tournaments

  • All-Ireland Senior Football Championship – Founded in 1887, this sees 33 teams compete across the course of a season.
  • National Football League (Ireland) – Ireland’s secondary competition was founded in 1925 and has 32 teams.
  • All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship – This began in 1970 and is played for the Andy Merrigan Cup.
  • Sigerson Cup – First played in 1911, this is specifically for higher education institutions in Ireland and is considered to be prestigious.

Gaelic Football Pitch 

The pitch used for Gaelic football is similar in nature of a rugby pitch in some nature though it’s actually much bigger. Sizes vary but its always rectangular and should be between 130 and 145 metres long and 80 and 90 metres wide.

There are H shaped goals at either end, formed by posts that are around 6 or 7 metres high and 6.5 metres apart with  a crossbar that is 2.5 metres off the ground. The lower half of the goal has a net, like football. 

Lines are located at 13 metres, 20 metres and 45 metres from both ends of the pitch. The same pitch can actually be used for hurling matches, which was a decision taken by the GAA to allow fewer pitches but more games being played.

Important note: Gaelic football continues to be played on an all-Ireland basis, in spite of the partition between Northern and Southern Ireland that came about in 1920.

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